Why album '4' isn't make or break for Beyoncé

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Let’s be honest here, Beyoncé has nothing to prove to any of us right now.

She’s showed us that she can command a stage wearing not much more than sky high heels while perfecting the hair flick and belting out notes that seem next-to-impossible.

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She’s also demonstrated how you can take a few simple ABC-type lines, put the right bass line to it and hit the right octave, and make it sound like music mastery.
And without much effort, she has proven that she can give birth to a ubiquitous summer anthem – the kind you don’t really ever tire hearing.

Click here to view a slideshow of Beyoncé’s biggest pop moments

The reception for Beyoncé’s first single off of her latest album, 4, was a bit lackluster. She came out of the gate with “Run The World (Girls),” which is her let’s-go-to-war take on female empowerment, and it had most people patting their mouths out of boredom. Beyoncé faithful know what the Texas-native can do, and this, many concluded, wasn’t her best.

The truth? It doesn’t matter.

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This new album, which is out today, won’t make or break Queen Bey’s career. She’s a show and prove type of singer, and the slow burn turnaround has been fascinating to observe. To hear her first track, folks were underwhelmed. It wasn’t her best — not even when she finally released the intricately choreographed music video — and there was this universal let down.

Then, they saw her do it live at the Billboard Awards.

And that, my friends, is where Beyoncé scores.

She won her critics over with that over-the-top, we’re-sisters-of-the-struggle performance and it paid off in dividends. The single didn’t gain much traction on the billboard charts, but it didn’t have to. The point was to put dismissive fans and career-watchers in their place.

Why? Once guess: she’s a live show type of performer. Beyoncé is flash and substance — something you don’t see much of in pop music — and she delivers best on stage. She’s said herself that she’s a visual songwriter — while she’s actually crafting music, she envisions what the music video might look like, and doing it that way only enhances how we hear her sound.Perhaps that’s why the first ballad we heard from this new album was when she performed it on American Idol. Back in May, Bey took to the biggest stage in the world to sing “1+1” for the Fox show’s finale, and even though it seemed a bit mature for much of that crowd (lyrics include a repetitive “make love to me,” and the finalists this year were both young teens) it garnered buzz about what all the Houston native was trying to do with this sound.

The big hit was when her husband, rap impresario Jay-Z, took some backstage video footage of her doing a casual warm-up singing the track in her dressing room. The flawless, un-engineered sound that came from her diaphragm went viral and did the best thing possible for an artist like Beyoncé: it reminded people why we love her so much.

She does it like she’s doing it live, all the time.

There’s not much pretense with Beyoncé’s music; in fact, much of her lyrics are within-reach and downright elementary at times. It’s a formula that has accounted for much of her success, including her must-attend live concert tours. She’s an entertainer who happens to own some of the best pipes ever to get in front of a microphone.

As for the rest of the album – she delivers on what she’s promised us: to do something different. She melds 70s soul with electronica and infuses hip-hop with pop music. She’s no Gaga, nor does she want to be. She sings of love, losing love and how to maintain it. There’s party grooves and ‘80s sounds and Beyoncé doesn’t even attempt to tamper down those pipes – she’s got the vocal chops and she doesn’t hold back even when she’s belting over old school hip-hop break beats.

This new project won’t be a defining moment for Beyoncé by a longshot. But it does give us something nice to listen to while we wait for what she does next.

And we will wait.